Caleb felt weak. Running around the streets had accelerated his doom. He was about to zombify. He was incapable of fear because his mind was overwhelmed with other, primal emotions.
He felt like an addict. The compulsions that drove him were impossible to deny. It was necessary, somehow, to get to the Cause. Why cause? He didn’t know why he used that word. Except that it was what all of them were striving for. What they all wanted.
Each time he took a dose of chillies, the invader in his system retreated and he got a clear view of the world again, for a short time. But those highs and lows were now confusing, maddening. Every one of his senses had been subverted, inverted or converted into something else. Just when he was getting used to it, the chillies would come along. His senses would swing back the other direction, leaving him disoriented. What did he really want? To stay or go? Which side of him was challenging the other?
His hands and legs were completely numb and every part of him felt like it belonged to someone else. His fingers were like slimy leather. When he held his hand in front of his face he was confronted by a monster. That flat piece of bony flesh, unfit for any useful purpose, with its atrophied claws grasping at the empty air. It didn’t know what it was for.
Movement happened in flashes. It flared up like magnesium, then settled into a fixed picture, nondescript, a wallpaper pattern. Then somebody would walk in or out of his vision and once again, the flare. The shape of human beings, coming and going, reminded him of who he was. But there were constant voices. His hearing was dull now and sometimes, the angels/ghosts/future called and he couldn’t say whether it was a real sound or just his mind. All his senses had melded into one.
More chilli. The unreal sounds faded. And he came back to himself, aware, seeing colour and feeling his shape and remembering he was human and that there was just one of him. He tried, when he was lucid, to describe what was going on in his mind. But it was hard to remember what he’d said before, and to remember what was real.
“Caleb,” said Rand, leaning over him. “We’re going to bombard you with chilli from now on. It can’t do any harm at this stage, I think. It’s just to see if it has any effect. Is that okay with you?”
Caleb nodded. Rand was his friend. But not like him. Or was that Epsilon Rex talking? Wait a second. He checked his hands again. They were alien. But they were his hands. So that was not alien. This was what he actually looked like. His perception was alien. He was sensing himself, and the world, through Ep Rex’s faculties. Suddenly, he was afraid. This was eternity. This was what faced him. Seeing all of humanity as a blur of freakish mutant motion.
There was a scummy taste in his mouth. It tasted like ditch water.
Screams outside. Rand, Tam and Zelinski gathered at the window. Caleb heaved himself to his feet. He staggered to join them. A young girl ran down the street. She had come from a neighbour’s house. Within a few seconds, the door opened again and a raging, steaming Wreck emerged. It was white with anger. There was something hanging from its leg. A dog. God help them. The family dog was attacking its owner, who must have transformed at last after hiding out for two days with a young daughter trying to mop up the fever.
The Wreck didn’t do well against the dog. It lost its balance. The dog, a Labrador, fought like some kind of well-trained killing machine. They were normally so placid. But this one knew the girl was in danger and that the Master was less than human. They said in the METMA centre that they had discovered dogs could be useful. No kidding. It went for the Wreck’s outstretched arms, then for the throat. Every part that moved got bitten. Magnificent animal.
As for the girl, she was gone. Despite the dog’s efforts, she was as likely to run into the arms of another Wreck as to be saved.
Caleb’s limbs felt like wood. Stiff. Unresponsive. He sat down again. He felt the power of the chilli ebb away. “More,” he said with his last human thought, and the light faded into grey. Tam came back to him with the bottle. It might have been less than a minute. His mind had already gone elsewhere.
The chilli kicked in and Ep Rex was briefly forced back. “Giants,” he said. “We fill you. We become you. Then you become us. We’ll make another. Another giant. Bigger. That’s the cause. That’s the cause…”